Fórsa trade union has warned that the wide range of specialist health services delivered by the community and voluntary sector, including disability, addiction and care services for older people, is at a real risk of collapse due to the failure to create a more sustainable funding model for the organisations delivering these services.
The warning was made at the union’s Health and Welfare divisional conference which is taking place online today (Wednesday 26th May).
Section 39 agencies are funded by the HSE, with funding allocated year to year. The union’s assistant general secretary Catherine Keogh said the current funding model robs Section 39 agencies of stability and any ability to plan future service delivery.
We can see the erosion, we can see the flight of staff from the sector, and we can see that the only direction of travel in terms of demand for services is upward.
Ms Keogh said: “Fórsa believes that a new systemic funding model is necessary for the community and voluntary sector, because the sector will collapse without one.
“The model that’s needed for the sector would include multi-annual funding in order to improve the ability to plan ahead, the rectification of historic under-investment, a single-standard of governance, and progressive employment guidelines.
“Without these measures, the whole sector risks collapse, and the early warning signs are all around us,” she said.
Ms Keogh said the sector is now characterised by a high turnover of staff, with many migrating to public service terms of employment with the HSE.
“The sector is being drained of talent and experience. The extremely high turnover of staff, as people exit to find permanent employment in the HSE, or in more securely funded agencies, is a waste of resources, both human and financial.
“Exit rates of up to a third of staff each year have been recorded, forcing these agencies to spend valuable tax payers’ money on recruiting to fill vacancies.
“Ultimately, it’s service users who suffer due to the high staff turnover, while experienced staff, understandably, seek greater job security in their chosen profession. The only way to stop such a corrosive cycle is to implement a new funding model for Section 39 agencies,” she said.
An agreement on pay restoration in 50 large section 39 agencies was reached in 2019, and a Workplace Relations Commission-brokered process led to a breakthrough for staff in a further 250 agencies last December.
Fórsa and other unions now want to ensure that staff in all 300 agencies are treated equally, which requires some retrospective payments for those in the second tranche of 250 agencies. But the employer has refused to engage on the issue, after earlier agreeing to address it in the second quarter of 2021.
Catherine Keogh said the current funding model robs Section 39 agencies of stability and any ability to plan future service delivery.
Ms Keogh explained that the Minister for Health established a working group to examine the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state in 2017. Concluding in 2018, the ‘Independent Review Group’ (IRG) identified a ‘strained relationship’ between the state and the voluntary and community sector, as well as disproportionate compliance requirements and an ‘avalanche of deficits’. The IRG proposed three to five-year multi-annual funding, streamlined service level agreements and a forum for dialogue for the sector.
Ms Keogh added, “Frustration continues to grow over the Government’s refusal to expand the voluntary body dialogue forum to include union representatives. This is completely inconsistent with the current programme for government commitments to wider social dialogue.
“Meaningful engagement through this forum could contribute to the resolution of long-term structural issues in the sector. We can see the erosion, we can see the flight of staff from the sector, and we can see that the only direction of travel in terms of demand for services is upward.
“It is therefore absolutely essential that the Government acts to protect this sector before it’s too late,” she said.
Representing over 30,000 health workers including health and social care professionals, clerical, administrative, management and technical staff.
Fórsa considers it one of the many strengths of the union that our members are central to the delivery the full array of health and welfare services in Ireland. To find out more about the range of grades represented, and where they operate within those services, visit our map “At the heart of Health and Welfare.”